Saratoga Springs’ favorite family shares its love of local food and musicSaratoga Springs is known for its restaurants, and has become the Capital Region’s favorite dining destination. In fact, there are now more restaurants per capita in Saratoga Springs than in San Francisco. There’s an emerging trend that several local restaurants are embracing called Farm-to-Table, where the food served is provisioned from nearby farms. Of course, any trend needs a trend setter. Often times, the trend setter is unaware that they are starting something new, they are just doing what they feel is the right thing to do, then everybody else catches on. Such is the case of Dianne and David Pedinotti, the driving force behind two of Saratoga Springs’ premier restaurants: One Caroline Street Bistro and The Mouzon House.
A family traditionThe Pedinotti family is perhaps singularly responsible for starting the Farm-to-Table concept over 16 years ago, when they opened One Caroline. At the time, the local food movement wasn’t even on the map. To David and Dianne, eating local has been an integral part of their life. David remembers his growing-up in Schenectady and having locally raised food all around him. “My family always had farm fresh stuff,” he recalls. “My grandmother had the family garden, and much of what we ate came from there. Every body in my family did something – made wine, made sausages, and we all got pork from family members who raised pigs outside the city.” So when my grandmother needed something, a pig to make prosciutto, or maybe a pork roast, she had her sources within the family,” said David.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, David Pedinotti is not a chef by trade, but rather, a carpenter. And he loves food. His cooking experience came from helping his grandmother, and the carpentry trade via his father and grandfather. Their work ethic created quite an impression upon him as young boy “They were very hard working, very industrious people,” he recalled. “My grandfather had a little carpentry business, along with his job making patterns at Alco; his son - my father – began helping him with the numerous odd jobs and things that had to be done, starting when he was only 12 years old.” Father and son later joined together as Gerry Pedinotti and Sons Carpentry. “So of course, I became a carpenter,” said David. “I started working for my dad over the summer breaks, and then after school I would help my grandmother make delicious food at her little store, Condi’s on Foster Ave. in Schenectady. Those two things always came up in my life, and defined what we have done to this point.”
One Caroline Bistro – an idea starts a trendDavid’s carpentry skills motivated him to take on the One Caroline project in the first place. He happened to be walking down Caroline Street when he noticed that the old E.H Hollings Print Shop had a For Rent sign in the window. Old man Hollins was retiring, so the space was going to be vacant. David, looking to expand upon his love of music, decided that this would make a great location for his Jazz Club idea. Only problem was, it was in horrible shape. In fact, Dianne cried when she laid eyes upon it for the first time. “There was raw sewage coming into it from upstairs, onto a dirt floor. I looked at David with my eyes welled up in tears and said ‘you’re out of your mind!’”
Undaunted by the derelict condition, David worked out a deal with building owner Mark Strauss to rehab the space rent-free until it was done. “I fixed a lot of problems with the building – rebuilt the support columns, put in a new floor, and hauled out a lot of junk,” he recalled. “We opened our doors on Kentucky Derby Day in 1996.” Luck was on Dave Pedinotti’s side that day. “I went to Siro’s beforehand and won $300 on a bet, so I used that money for the bank to open up that evening.”
One Caroline started out humbly as a modest place to hear jazz music – the sound that David heard growing up on his father’s old records. From a tiny kitchen he put out sandwiches and some of his favorite Italian dishes. People came for the music, but the food was a nice surprise. Word got out about how great the food was, and One Caroline soon became the go to place for good eats in Saratoga Springs. The Pedinotti’s took that momentum and kept expanding in the culinary direction. They remodeled the place again, dedicating more space to the kitchen, put in the signature copper-clad tables, and added a grand piano – creating the warm and inviting atmosphere that is loved by so many people. The menu expanded to include Creole influences, like Jambalaya and Sticky Chicken, which remain on the menu to this day. The food and the jazz club atmosphere give One Caroline Bistro its unique New Orleans vibe. “I liken it to an Italian family in New Orleans,” commented David. “It’s a fusion of the classic Italian dishes with some southern Cajun standards, and we draw from local farms and musicians to give it all a local relevance.”
The Mouzon House – A new purpose for a cherished landmarkAnybody who has run a busy restaurant knows how all-consuming it can be, and the thought of running another one is quickly dismissed as insanity. Well then, the Pedinotti’s are definitely insane, because in addition to One Caroline, they took on another enterprise on the north side of town known simply as The Mouzon House. Owning two restaurants was not their original intent, however. As with One Caroline, it started with a walk down the street.
Dianne and David were walking over to the Saratoga farmers market and noticed the For a Sale sign at the old Mouzon at the edge of High Rock Park It just so happened that their lease was up at One Caroline, so the they thought, hey, let’s own our own place instead of renting. They fell in love with its location, and its history.
Caught in the tumultuous era of urban renewal in the ‘60’s, the Mouzon residence was almost lost to the wrecking ball The High Rock Ave neighborhood was of mixed ethnicity and home to many proud but poor families. Considered a blighted neighborhood, the City fathers wanted to create a park and build modern apartments where the old homes stood. All the properties were taken by eminent domain, except for the Mouzon’s house. Instead, they fought to keep their proud home. Two years of tenacity and grit won their right to remain, and the house today stands a testament to property rights and fortitude.
Initially, the Pedinotti’s considered moving One Caroline over to there newly acquire home, but quickly realized that One Caroline could not be moved, for it belongs downtown. They decided to renew the lease on One Caroline, and took to converting The Mouzon House into its own unique dining experience. Completely different from One Caroline, its multiple rooms with period décor and paintings create an uncommon charm and intimacy. The mood is slow and laid back; the outdoor bar is the perfect setting to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Broadway. Like One Caroline, the food is eclectic and local, and live music completes the package.
One Caroline continued to evolve; the Pedinotti’s brought in a new chef who is doing some really creative things with small plates, so you can sample all kinds of flavors and combinations. It seems to fit well with the Saratoga dining scene today, where people can stop in at different places throughout the day and nosh on all kinds of things instead of sitting down for one big meal. The location on Caroline Street and Broadway keeps the atmosphere active and energetic. The mood changes throughout the evening, and with the ever-changing music lineup, it’s a place that stays fresh and exciting.
Local Food - Supplying the DemandNormally, a restaurant enterprise has a host of suppliers that will deliver all kinds of food – all from far way. But the Pedinotti’s wanted to buy direct from farmers, however, there was no supply channel from which to procure the food. “In the beginning we had to go hunting for farmers who were willing to sell direct to us,” explained David. “And we learned a lot of lessons; who to buy from and what kind of practices they were using. We wanted it as organic as possible.”
Luck came their way one day, when a group called the Regional Farm and Food Project was having their annual Harvest Dinner at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park. One of the beef suppliers was Adele and Jim Hayes, of Schoharie County. Impressed with their meat, David decided to give them a call to see if they’d supply his restaurant. “It was the beginning of a great relationship,” recalls Adele. “We were on the cutting edge too,” she added. “We were trying to get local food to be recognized as a great value. Dave and Dianne have been tremendous in helping spread that message.” She continued, “The Pedinotti’s are great people, and they really care about their customers.”
Changing minds…and eating habitsThe Pedinotti’s had some interesting experiences early on. Certain cuts are favored by customers, but not always available in the quantity that the farmer could supply. The public needed to be educated on what a restaurant serving local food can be. “We had to make people aware that we use the whole cow instead of only certain parts of 15 cows to constantly have filet minion on the menu,” David said. “A lot of times people would just leave because they thought it was going to be organic and crunchy.” It was a real risk to run a restaurant on this basis. When they began serving free-range chicken, one woman stated she would not try it because “she was afraid of it.” She didn’t think it was safe, and perhaps it might make her sick! The reality, however, is that such chicken is actually the reverse – healthier, and better tasting. “1t’s very odd, isn’t it,” David chuckled. “Now it’s changed a lot. It’s come around completely. It’s evident at the farmers market – attendance is way up from even ten years ago.” Dianne added, “It’s really exciting to see, because it really been a passion of ours for a long, long time.”
The Pedinotti’s restaurant ventures are a true reflection of the rich food and music heritage of our region. They proudly identify their suppliers in each entrée on the menu. They’re not just farmers - they are family. This is why your dining experience with the Pedinotti’s transcends the food and touches your soul. “I don’t think I would want to be in the restaurant business if we couldn’t use fresh, local ingredients,” remarked Dianne. “That’s the whole thing,” added David. “I wouldn’t be in this business if I had to buy conventional meats from factory farms - I just wouldn’t do it.” “It’s more of a Slow Food passion,” he continued. “The way food should be cooked, the way it should be done.” And well done, it is!
One Caroline Bistro is located on the corner of Broadway and Caroline Street, Saratoga Springs. Call 587-2026 ,online at onecaroline.com. The Mouzon House is located at the foot of High Rock Park on High Rock Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Call 226-0014, online at mouzonhouse.com