In Warwick, N.Y. at Pennings, Finding Ways to Keep Them Down on the Farm
New York Times
By Michelle Higgins
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The apples and freshly baked bread had been carefully moved aside. A local cover band played just steps away from shelves of raw honey and refrigerated glass cases, while a large, bearded man watched the door, collecting the $5 cover fee from scores of locals, many bundled in fleece and flannel.
It was standing room only on this wintry Saturday night at Pennings Farm Market Pub & Grill in Warwick, N.Y.
Twentysomethings sipped craft beer by the bar in the back, while a group of 50-somethings danced and sang along with the formidable singer, who belted out Janis Joplin and Patsy Cline songs. A faint smell of fried batter and vinegar hung in the air, remnants of the house specialty: fish and chips.
“If I had known how busy it was going to be, I would have moved the produce outside for the night,” said Steve Pennings, a farmer who owns the market with his wife, Jill. “We did our best to get everyone a table, but plenty of people were happy to stand in the back and listen.”
Pennings, as the locals call it, is set in an apple orchard about 50 miles northwest of Midtown Manhattan and just over the New Jersey state line in Orange County. Inside a converted barn, visitors find an eclectic space — part farm market, part beer hall — offering specialty craft beers and comfort food at one end, and groceries and garden supplies at another. An ice cream counter is open year round, and outside there is a kiddie corner with goats and chickens to feed. Friday and Saturday nights have live music. On Sundays, tall metal shelves stacked with pies and other baked goods replace the band.
What ties this eclectic assortment together is a staunch commitment to support local business while keeping the farming tradition alive.
Begun as a roadside vegetable stand about 30 years ago, Pennings now has shelves stocked with fresh baked breads, free-range eggs, hormone-free meat, and handmade sauces, jams and soaps from more than 30 local vendors.
The restaurant’s menu, which is written on a chalkboard behind the ice cream counter, changes seasonally. Recent highlights include a “local Lowland Farm grass-fed beef burger” and a French onion soup made with Pennings hard apple cider and onions grown in nearby black dirt fields. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are also available.
Patrons order at the counter and are handed a buzzer that vibrates when the food is ready. Picnic tables of varying shapes and sizes are covered in black-and-white-checkered tablecloths.
A repurposed apple grader, which was once used on the farm to sort fruit, now serves as the bar, with six rotating taps featuring small-batch regional beer. Ninkasi Brewing Company Vanilla Oatis, Troegs Mad Elf Ale and Ballast Point Grunion Pale Ale were among the recent selections. Hops are grown on the farm and sold to local brewers. There is also an assortment of local wines and hard ciders.
Business ebbs and flows with the seasons, but Pennings maintains a roster of annual events like its beer festival, “Brew Fest on the Farm,” which is scheduled this year for May 30. The fall is its busiest time of year, when throngs of day-trippers from New York City, Bergen County and Westchester descend on its 60-acre orchard. In the winter, visitors from nearby ski areas like Mount Peter and Mountain Creek warm up by its wood-burning stoves and chow down on cheese steaks. In spring and summer, families and a post-collegiate crowd pack its outdoor beer garden while children feed the goats and chickens in the petting zoo.
“People always ask, ‘How did you come up with such a great business plan?’ ” said Mr. Pennings, the ninth of 10 children who grew up on a dairy farm in Warwick. “It was all out of desperation, believe me.”
After graduating from college in 1981, Mr. Pennings went into business with his oldest brother, Jack, who had recently opened Pennings Orchard, and the roadside stand was born. They added the petting zoo and the ice cream stand, and then enclosed the market in the barn.
After the recession, they needed a way to bolster the farming business, and so the grill was introduced in 2009. “The economy was in the tank, and we were struggling to survive,” Mr. Pennings said. “We needed to get enough people to sustain ourselves, to pay the taxes and overhead to operate on a big parcel of land.” The next year they opened the pub, which “gave people a reason to linger a little longer,” he said.
This summer, the family plans to embark on its next project: a cidery with a tasting room. “You’ve got to have something new on the back burner,” Mr. Pennings said, “to keep getting people to come in.”