The three-course meal was delicious. The teas were inspiring. And the commentary from Hayley Stevens, owner of Saratoga Tea & Honey, as well as Chef Dan Spitz, added depth and dimension to a meal that was beyond satisfying.
CulinaryArts@SPAC: The Kitchen Garden: Spring! on May 1 was held at SPAC’s Pines Terrace, which overlooks the amphitheater and lawn. The sun was high, the sky was clear and the folks I sat next to were very friendly. The event, the atmosphere and the company were all most refreshing.
And then there was the food.
The first course was a charred ramp and potato soup topped with crème Fraiche and trout roe. The entrée was Risotto Verde with asparagus, peas, ramps, fiddleheads and wild garlic mustard greens, finished with garden herbs and parmesan. And for dessert, a lemon and strawberry trifle that received rave reviews by all of us lucky enough to taste it. Speaking of the entire repast, all I can say is wow.
The workshops and information sessions on planning an edible garden, choosing what to grow and sowing seeds, featured Suzanne Balet Haight, owner of Balet Farm and Nursery, and Sarah Miles, education director of Pitney Meadows Community Farm. And they served as a great reminder of where our meals come from and why this is important.
Opened in July 2021, The Pines@SPAC is a $9.5 million project that opened up original site lines from the Route 50 Gate to the Victoria Pool; provides new and expanded restrooms and concessions areas; and new measures for safety and security. Components include the Julie Bonacio Family Pavilion; The Pines Terrace; and the Nancy Di Cresce Education Room at The Pines. The main concession building includes a second-story, with year-round event space and the Pines Terrace, which offers sweeping views of the SPAC amphitheater and lawn.
The Pines@SPAC endeavor complements nicely the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s $1.75 million upgrade of the SPAC amphitheater’s aging balcony ramps and lighting with an elegant and safe entryway. That project was completed in 2019 and followed an upgrade of the amphitheater facade in 2012.
Overall, the CulinaryArts@SPAC program gave me a new perspective on SPAC, and underscored the wide reach of the nonprofit organization located in Saratoga State Park, less than 10-minutes from the Saratoga Amtrak station by Uber.
Yes, many people identify SPAC with rock concerts and thousands of fans and the biggest music stars of the day. But CulinaryArts@SPAC forced me to pause and look at this gem of a destination from a different angle, one that showcased SPAC as all-encompassing, all-consuming, and enduring for anyone who loves the arts, the culinary arts, the great outdoors and occasions when the three can meet.
“What’s here is this unbelievable mix of art, culture, nature,” SPAC CEO and President Elizabeth Sobol said of SPAC and Saratoga Springs. “It’s just an extraordinary confluence of manmade beauty and natural beauty.”
The manner in which SPAC fuses culinary delights, the arts and our natural surroundings will be showcased again on July 11, with a New York City Ballet Culinary Arts Event.
“A Choreographers’ Feast” will feature favorite dishes and recipes from choreographers whose works will be performed as part of the New York City Ballet’s 2022 summer residency at SPAC this summer. All proceeds benefit New York City Ballet’s summer residency at SPAC. As with all things SPAC, you can visit spac.org to learn more about all of this.
Another culinary event will be held July 25-26 at SPAC, in conjunction with performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
And these events illustrate just how immersive an event at SPAC can get.
Kicking off the summer season on SPAC’s iconic stage is The Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, a SPAC institution since 1978. Set for June 25-26 with two stages and a lineup of 24 incredible bands from jazz to roots, funk, blues and Latin, the weekend features as headliners: the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Booker T. Presents: A Stax Revue, Ledisi, Robert Glasper, and Galactic featuring Anjelika Jelly Joseph.
Bringing together SPAC’s rich history of tradition and innovation, which began in 1966, are its summer residencies with world-class companies, including the New York City Ballet (July 12-16), The Philadelphia Orchestra (July 27-Aug. 13) and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (June 12 &19, July 10 & 17, Aug. 14 & 21).
Visitors will be enchanted by City Ballet’s full-length story ballet A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an evening dedicated to 20th Century Masters, highlighted by Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace, and a program showcasing works by contemporary choreographers, including new pieces by Jamar Roberts and Pam Tanowitz.
The Philadelphia Orchestra will bring 12 unique programs for its three-week residency, with four programs led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Aug. 10–13), including a finale featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Returning to SPAC are world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma (Aug. 5) and violinist Joshua Bell, alongside star soprano Larisa Martinez (July 29). Making their 2022 SPAC debuts is a diverse roster of artists, including fourteen-time GRAMMY nominee Ledisi singing the music of Nina Simone (Aug. 3), pianist and NPR host Lara Downes (Aug. 4), soprano Angel Blue (Aug. 12-13), 26-year-old superstar violinist Randall Goosby (Aug. 11), and Philadelphia’s premier contemporary ballet company, BalletX (July 27), performing a new work choreographed by NYCB’s Tiler Peck. SPAC’s popular film nights will also return to delight audiences of all ages as the Orchestra accompanies, live to picture, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban™ in Concert (July 30) and The Princess Bride in Concert (Aug. 6).
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will present six programs in the beautiful pastoral setting of Pitney Meadows Community Farm from June 12- August 21.
SPAC is very proud to partner with Live Nation, which presents concerts in the amphitheater. This year’s schedule of Live Nation shows is extensive, with the Lumineers on May 29; Dave Matthews Band on July 8-9; and Sting on Sept. 7 offering just a glimpse of the full calendar.
SPAC also operates the SPAC School of the Arts, a multidisciplinary arts school founded in 2021, out of the Lewis A. Swyer Studios. The state-of-the-art facility is located behind the National Museum of Dance, which is also located in Saratoga Spa State Park.
And don’t forget the Jazz Bar at SPAC’s Hall of Springs.
“An elegant space…the Jazz Bar is a popular dining area prior to performances,” reads spac.org. “Following select classical programs, it transforms into an after-hours social scene featuring live jazz music and dancing.”
Known as “the Queen of the Spas,” Saratoga Springs, “has a rich heritage as a health resort,” according to discoversaratoga.com. “…During the Paleozoic Era, a series of faults or cracks split the underlying bedrock, creating fissures through which water forced its way to the surface. These springs are the only naturally carbonated mineral springs east of the Rocky Mountains.”
And, continues discoversaratoga.com, “Without the lure of the springs, settlers might easily have bypassed the region. Mineral water, for drinking and bathing, long a European tradition for the health-conscious, was the impetus for the explosive development of the city.”
Along with the history, Saratoga Springs offers a vibrant downtown buzzing with energy, public springs where the famous water can be accessed and beautiful homes that push architecture beyond anyone’s imagination.
Back to my visit on that Sunday afternoon, in an attempt to stretch out my time at SPAC, I took a walk around the grounds following the CulinaryArts@SPAC program. The warm temperatures had drawn folks out for a relaxing Sunday on adjacent grounds, surrounding a reflecting pool.
My next stop was the Gideon Putnam Hotel, which like SPAC is located within the state park. Opened in 1935, the Gideon Putnam evokes a long-gone era, but its modern lodging conveniences and contemporary edge create a welcoming atmosphere perfect for unwinding after a full afternoon.
After a brief rest, I was off to downtown Saratoga Springs for dinner. I had dined at Wheatfields twice on previous trips, and while that was divine, I was glad to try something new at Seneca.
Located just off Broadway, I quickly found something on the menu at Seneca that got my heart racing: Fried Chicken Deviled Eggs. Yes, they were as good as they sound. And yes, they were the perfect opener to a main course of Cedar Plank Salmon served with salsa verde butter, old bay polenta, hazelnut ranch collards, caramelized leeks and peppers. My only regret from this meal is that I only had one serving of the Fried Chicken Deviled Eggs. And while the salmon could have stood on its own, those items added on generated within me sizzle and sighs, oh my!
One of the most wonderful things about visiting Saratoga Springs is the city’s walkability. Parking is a breeze and affords easy access by foot to shops, restaurants and Congress Park. I was also able to stroll from Seneca to Caffè Lena, a historic music venue on Phila Street.
Opened in a former woodworking shop in 1960, Caffè Lena, according to its website, is “widely recognized as the longest continuously operating folk music venue in the United States. The Library of Congress calls Caffè Lena ‘An American treasure,’ and we have been recognized by The Grammy Foundation for our important contributions to the development of American music.”
According to the New York Times, Bob Dylan, “by most accounts, played his first out-of-town show there after arriving in New York City.”
The Caffè Lena performance space is inviting. The acoustics are exceptional. The faces are friendly. The focus of it all is the music. And on May 1, JigJam delivered nearly two hours of contemporary, acoustic, Irish and Scottish music that placed the term “jamband” in a new context.
These fellas cooked. The frontman, Jamie McKeogh, played his guitar as though his fingers were on fire. He anchored the ensemble. And if he is ever looking for a second career, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket for his stand-up comedy act. His banter in between songs was beyond perfect.
But it was truly the dynamic between the members of JigJam that propelled the evening forward. Two hours have never flown by faster for me, and I was very sorry indeed to see it all end.
As I walked the block-and-a-half back to my car in the parking lot across from Congress Park, I couldn’t help but think back to my afternoon at SPAC. The arts infusion there left me feeling nurtured. The open lawn, the evergreen trees, the history, it all gave me a sense of invincibility.
And leaving Caffè Lena, I experienced something similar. Saratoga Springs at night, even on a Sunday night, has a buzz, a vibe, a personality and a rhythm. The guys in JigJam really pressed their feet on the gas pedal and gave us a big old nudge out the door, sending us off with their energy, infused with the arts, framed by a sense of abandonment and, propelled by solid songs and more than a few good jokes.
But there was something else unfolding here.
Yeah, in just a few hours, SPAC, Saratoga Spa State Park and the City of Saratoga Springs had delighted my senses—sight, sound and taste. But as I got into my car and geared up to retire for the evening back at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, I felt empowered and emboldened by a community-driven by the arts that leaves folks feeling better than they did when they arrived.
A solid sleep at the Gideon Putnam Hotel was followed by check-out and yet another destination within Saratoga Spa State Park that was a game-changer—the Roosevelt Baths & Spa.
Operated by the Gideon Putnam Hotel and established in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “to preserve the Saratoga Springs,” according to gideonputnam.com, the Roosevelt Baths & Spa offers:
Thanks to a mineral bath, I found, in less than an hour, serenity, calm and rejuvenation akin to a week at the beach. And as I made my way back to my car, I was very glad to see the SPAC amphitheater nearby, reminding me of great musical memories, and of a wonderful culinary experience just 24 hours earlier.
Then it was back to downtown Saratoga Springs for today’s culinary experience: an everything bagel with bacon, egg and cheese, and a café mocha, at Uncommon Grounds café. My whirlwind of a visit to Saratoga was winding down and breakfast on Broadway gave me the chance to catch my breath, nosh, sip and see a whole different side of this dynamic community.
My last stop was Sweet Mimi’s Café & Bakery. The stroll there was wonderful enough, as it brought me back to the Caffe Lena part of Saratoga. But once I stepped inside, it was that oversized vanilla cupcake with sprinkles, in the display case, that held me in its tractor beam. Yes, I love sweets and that cupcake, well, it was a bit overwhelming for all the right reasons.
As I retraced my steps from the previous night, back to that same parking lot near Congress Park, I thought, how appropriate to end my visit to Saratoga Springs with an oversized vanilla cupcake. Between SPAC, the culinary arts, the arts in general, the dazzling landscape of Saratoga Spa State Park, the solid sleep at Gideon Putnam Hotel and the mineral bath, I had truly found my sweet spot.
Experience music and more at Saratoga Performing Arts Center via Amtrak to Saratoga Springs Station (SAR) in Saratoga Springs or Albany-Rensselaer Station (ALB) in Rensselaer. Don’t forget to use the I Love New York 15% discount!
Rent a car from Enterprise! Enterprise picks you up at SAR and takes you to your rental car. Use the code, NYTRAIN, for a discount when making your reservation. Click here to reserve your car or call Enterprise’s Saratoga Springs office: 518-587-0687. If you’re taking the train to ALB and would like to rent a car, you can rent your car at the station. Call the Rensselaer office at 518-427-3893.
Amtrak has taken several initiatives to ensure the safety of its passengers. They have committed to requiring face masks for all passengers, converting the cafe car to takeout only, adding social distance signage, and much more.