Apple Pie Bakery Café (Hyde Park, NY)

When my brother was visiting the States last fall, in addition to satisfying his cravings for, among other items, New Haven Pizza and American-style pancakes, we also had a bit of family busy to attend to, visiting my aunt and uncle in Rhinebeck, NY. There are a lot of nice places to dine around Rhinebeck, but heading just south of town, there’s an attraction you can’t really miss in Hyde Park, the Culinary Institute of America.

Normally, I would have tried to avail myself of one of the CIA’s fine dining restaurants (Bocuse, American Bounty, or Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici), but our visit was last-minute, and our schedule had us passing through Hyde Park mid-day, so we weren’t able to secure (the somewhat difficult) reservations needed for this, so that’s deferred to another time. But there’s still a surprisingly good, but more laid back, option for those lacking reservations and planning, and that’s the Apple Pie Bakery Café.

The Café is easy to find, located in the main building of the CIA Campus (Roth Hall) just adjacent to the main “Les Halles” gallery of teaching classrooms. So after a brief walk around the grounds (indeed, even getting a photo showing Dan as a “CIA Plant”… really, they should sell potted plants in the gift shop, since there’s a built-in ad campaign!), we wandered into the cafe, and after a rather short wait in line found ourselves staring at the pastry case. Yeah, the process flow is a bit odd: if you want to order from their many desserts, you actually order those first, and then either grab one of the nicely-prepared salads from the case, or order a hot food item from the register. Hey, it’s a bit odd, but it definitely encourages you to order dessert (which I did, a s’more, which we’ll come back to).

While they had a lot of great basic cafe-style options (such as grilled cheese, bao buns, or grilled flatbreads), I opted for that day’s Mexican option: a Carnita tostada. The Hudson River Valley isn’t the first place I’d pick if looking for some carnitas, I was actually quite pleased: the pork was well-seasoned, tender, nicely shredded, and, this last one being the most important, having the right amount of subtle crisp to it. Add in some decent greens, some queso fresco, and a very nicely garlicky guacamole onto a pair of nicely crisped, firm-but-not-too-hard tortillas, and this was a decent enough lunch; I’d definitely consider it again.

But the star here was the dessert. The Apple Pie Bakery Café is, foremost, a bakery (hence the odd ordering approach), and I definitely succumbed to the temptation of a s’more. This wasn’t your regular, old toasted marshmallow, but a meticulous construction with a house-made base, a slab of layered ganache, adorned with more graham cracker crust and some nicely toasted meringue-like marshmallow cream on top. This was a splendid dessert, especially since, despite the fundmentally-sweet nature of “marshmallow”, this was actually a pretty subtle and not overly-sweet dessert: the focus here was more on a darker, smoother ganache than anything else. I was glad I indulged.

Afterward, we wandered about Roth Hall a bit, seeing the main student dining room (looking almost like it belongs at Hogwarts), several teaching kitchens and classrooms, and a rather nice memorial to the late Anthony Bourdain, one of the CIA’s more famous graduates. While my goal is to return for a fancy dinner, I certainly still recommend the less-formal Café if you are just passing through: it’s a good stop.

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