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Cooking in the Country

Callicoon Wine Merchant

Claire Stabbert
Posted 7/1/22

I might have been holding out on all of you for some time now, and for that I apologize.

Sometimes it’s difficult to stay objective when writing about a place when it becomes a beat so …

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Cooking in the Country

Callicoon Wine Merchant


I might have been holding out on all of you for some time now, and for that I apologize.

Sometimes it’s difficult to stay objective when writing about a place when it becomes a beat so familiar; especially when it’s in my own home town, a short stroll from my own doorstep, and frequented and staffed by so many of my friends in the local food and hospitality industry.

And other times, I think about leaving a bit of that feeling of spontaneous discovery of neighborhood treasures unspoiled for you, on your travels.

I’m referring, of course, to the Callicoon Wine Merchant, tucked away neatly on Audley Dorrer Drive, Callicoon.

The Wine Merchant specializes in tapas-style dishes and small plates, with a Mediterranean flair.

Each item on the menu is tiny - only a few bites, a taste, (as it should be) - but that means you are free to indulge your inner child and order a dozen plates in a row. It’s like pressing all the elevator buttons at once and it’s fantastic.

Add a thoughtful glass or two of wine on a sunny table in their cozy courtyard, and I can offer no better way to burn a few lazy summer Sunday afternoon hours.

The second you bite into any of Chef Robin Mailey’s dishes, you realize this is a man who knows what he is doing. There’s a bit of acid on almost every dish, and where there’s crunch, there’s also silky, creamy texture. He takes no prisoners. The menu changes frequently to celebrate our own local produce, dishes coming and going with the seasons. Sometimes things disappear indefinitely without apparent rhyme or reason, and I can only assume it’s to keep the universe in balance, somehow.

One of Robin’s inspirations was related in a childhood story of his grandmother making braised veal shoulder over mashed potatoes with tomatoes and vinegar every Sunday - the perfect combination when eaten altogether.

It’s that flavor profile that he’s been chasing ever since, and you’ll notice the vinegar, acid, and spice theme running through many of his dishes.

Robin’s journey began when he was fourteen and needed a job while growing up in Rhode Island. It started out as a means to make a little money, before quickly evolving into a passion when he fell in love with the restaurant industry.

Shortly thereafter he began working in NYC, moving from line cook, to sous chef, to michelin star restaurants , and ended up opening his own joint in ‘93.

The dish he believes has the best taste is the egg and romesco dish, while my personal favorite is the three bean salad with fennel and parmesan cream (I order two or three at once, every time I go). I love a delicious vinegar and bean-based salad.

Every customer has their own favorite dish: whether silky salt cod croquettes, or chilled pot roast, arrancini over harrissa or a few slices of guanciale - the diversity of dishes is what is so beautiful about visiting.

And lastly, if you are a local, you know about Robin’s most famous home-made ice cream flavor: hay. I asked him about the inspiration behind this unique treat, and he mentioned once seeing a roadside stand serving asparagus flavored ice cream. An interesting idea for sure, but not quite it.

Then, realizing he could smell his neighbors’ freshly raked hay while driving home, he realized that a grass flavored ice cream would work very well, and the rest is history. If you haven’t visited the Wine Merchant yet, do yourself a favor and get to it. And don’t forget to order a cone of hay at the end of your soiree - you can thank me later.


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