By Erica Paige Schumacher
Driving through Pine Bush’s bucolic fields, past farms and residents growing garlic, or offering fresh eggs or mushrooms in a mythic land somewhat famous for “alien sightings,” one may be lucky enough to stop in for a very comfortable atmospheric dinner or a weekend lunch at the Hoot Owl restaurant.
Inside this beautiful, historic structure, customers will find neighbors of all ages and backgrounds meeting for a drink of specialty regional wines; a delicious bite to eat of things both comfortably American or globally influenced; or a gathering of local musicians jamming in front of the hearth on a Sunday afternoon. As for this weary and lost traveler, I was greeted by the gracious new owners, Sabeen Hasan and Arif Khan, with a refreshing and healthful bubbly kombucha beverage like no other. According to the couple, who embarked on their restaurant ownership after a period of reflection, the kombucha is made in New Paltz, by another couple who create it using whole roots and herbs.
Hasan is an architect by trade and an accomplished cook, while her husband and partner, Khan, is trained and traveled the world as a disaster relief management professional. As Gen Xers, both spoke in unison about their joint desire to problem solve and “foster community spirit.” The married team hosts performances, workshops, a farmers’ market, and other events to bring the greater community in to honor their work and sample the Hoot Owl’s unique American and Indian menu. “Food is and has always been a way to bring people together on common ground,” Khan said.
Originally, they were thinking of moving here to open a bed and breakfast while maintaining their professional lives. “This place seemed like it had potential,” Khan said. Both were drawn to the location and the opportunity to carry on a historic local venue in a way that honored its unusual past, but moved things forward in a contemporary way. Khan said when they considered taking the risk to buy the restaurant from prior owner, Al Mercurio, a main question when thinking of opening a local business was not necessarily driven primarily by economics. “I asked myself, how can we bring people together?” Both imagined an authentic place that moved beyond the stereotypical demographics of “Brooklynites on vacation,” or “city people with second homes,” and was more invitational across generations, neighborhoods, budgets, and palates.
Whether it is through the creative labors of local farmers who grow delicious mushrooms, or the potter who makes the tableware that complements chef Jared Lozupone’s culinary creations, both Hasan and Khan commented on the shared community experience of having people from the local ecosystem involved in the restaurant’s transformation. Popular mainstay dishes made by Lozupone—who worked at Bolo, the Tribeca Grill,Crispo, and with Bobby Flay—include burgers and fries, and homemade buffalo-style wings with house-made blue cheese sauce. The restaurant also offers New York strip steak with “garlic smashed” potatoes and seasonal, locally-sourced vegetables; Indian dishes such as Tandoori chicken and Murgh Makhani; and nutritious and delicious vegetarian appetizers like hummus with pita or an assortment of house-made dips that offer something for every taste, budget, and diet. “We love that Jared is passionate about blending classic Indian flavors and spices with fresh and local produce,” Hasan said. “We are excited to see how the Hoot Owl will evolve.”In addition to regional wines, the Hoot Owl also carries a variety of specialty beers on draft and features a popular Happy Hour as well as private parties and other important celebrations.
Among the oldest institutions on the Shawangunk mountain, the original structure was built in 1856 and was known as the Hoot Owl since 1947. In its various incarnations it was a local speakeasy during Prohibition, a biker bar, a post office, a rumored mafia hideaway, and also a brothel. The menu cites it as “a community gathering place where many good times were had…until it closed in 2013.” Luckily, for the community, it was brought back to life in May 2017 by Khan and Hasan who describe it perfectly as “a comfortable, welcoming place with an eclectic mix of great food and drinks.”
As for moving to the country to begin anew in middle age, or reflecting on the core values of Gen Xers, Khan and Hasan mention something primary and primordial for most people living here and beyond. “There is an idea and a yearning for simplicity or something more basic—just paring down and simplifying.” They don’t necessarily identify with any particular age-group or generational stereotype, or even subscribe to the idea that they must always be ‘restaurateurs,’ but rather, both state, “We get joy out of connecting with people and hosting a benevolent setting for others to find that same sense of local abundance.” When the couple first moved here and thought about buying a local business, the for sale sign called to them intuitively. “The old owner gave us the key before we closed the deal,” Khan said. Obviously, passing a historic business on to others requires a great deal of trust and faith in the new proprietors. Perhaps this married team relied on something else more mysterious to make their decision to try something new. “It’s just about being open to possibilities and opportunities—or gifts—from the universe,” Khan said.
The Hoot Owl is located at 26 Awosting Road in Pine Bush; Serving dinner Wednesday through Sunday, and lunch and dinner on the weekends. Check out their menu, hours, and offerings at hootowlrestaurant.com. Their mostly locally-sourced and globally-inspired fare is well worth the visit. The farmers’ market is open Saturdays from 10am-2pm. The Acoustic Jam is every Sunday at 2:30pm.