Sitting at our table among what had to be all of Ulster County’s retirees, my cousins and I sipped our wine, finished forkfuls of near perfect homemade lasagna and asked each other, why don’t we do this more often? It wasn't a family function so to speak (none of the silver haired folks were ours to claim) but it was functional for our family. We're Italian. Food, drink, accordion music, and dropping final vowels in words like "prosciutto" are in our nature and we should do so whenever possible. While geography has proved a bit tricky, we found our way together this weekend at Magnanini’s Winery and Restaurant in Wallkill, New York.
Magnanini’s is a quaint, family run venue tucked away in the Hudson Valley roughly two hours from the city. Situated on multiple acres is a European style hall and courtyard surrounded by rows of verdant vines. Yes, our presence may have significantly lowered the average age of attendees but that’s no reason to not have a good time. Forty five dollars for six courses and fourteen bills for a bottle of wine at dinner service (YUP), that’s a fantastic day trip for friends, family, and of course, a designated driver.
If it seems like a place only locals know about it’s because it probably is. Most of the guests are locals that have been coming there for years for Sunday supper or Saturday dinner. The fact that Magnanini’s is only open two nights a week and has been around for decades is a tremendous feat. Our family only knows about it because my aunt and uncle were once said locals. We have all since fanned out across the East coast but somewhere between the third course and fifth bottle of wine we decided we should bring it back, not just to our family but everyone.
We started on the lower level for the tasting, which featured seven varietals that day. Seeing that it was a humid ninety five degrees I stuck to the semi-dry but the table red and dry white did manage to find their way home with me. The unassuming brown lumps offered at each table turned out to be super tasty chicken meatballs. I ate them as fast as I judged them in a far larger quantity than intended. Advantage, meatballs.
When it was time to head to the main floor dinner service was in full swing. Diners were on their first course and grandparents were twirling away on the dance floor to blaring accordion music. Accordions aren't usually my jam but if I had had someone to dance with I absolutely would have. Instead I admired the elaborate paintings around the hall that were the works of a founding family member. I'm no art buff but it reminds of me of Renaissance style. Interestingly enough, this family member had once been invited to paint an altar piece at a cathedral in Bologna so clearly there is talent.
The dishes are simple Northern Italian fare: prosciutto and melon, mixed green salad, broth based soup with pasta. Are they anything like you’d find in a larger city? Of course not, you’re in the countryside and it is as it should be: good homemade food. The lasagna rivaled anything I’ve tasted in a New York establishment and the chicken Marsala was so rich and savory it begged for seconds. We finished with a salted caramel ice cream loaded with hidden chocolate nuggets and sips of house made lemon grappa, both of which were a pleasant way to end the day.
Magnanini's has deep roots, devoted guests, and a desire to bring groups together. If you need trendy decor and obscure foodie finds in order to have a good time, well, this most likely isn't the place for you. Personally speaking, if the food and wine is good, I believe the rest will follow. Like most family events, the time went too fast and we left satiated and eager to see each other again. Consider Magnanini's for your next group outing because like a fine wine, Magnanini's is a place that gets better with age. Until the next dish, ciao!