POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – With two restaurants, a deli and a catering venue to run, Poughkeepsie couple Charles and Megan Fells have quite a lot on their plate, so to speak.
When they opened The Artist’s Palate (a play on the word palette), their first eatery on the city’s Main Street, then Canvas, the banquet hall right next door, the Fells were around each other “24/7,” Charles said, adding: “We were pretty much joined at the hip.”
Too much togetherness can be tough on any couple, much less one involved in the high-pressure business of feeding people.
Then the Fells opened Brasserie 292, a stylish French bistro, and Morty’s Kosher Style Delicatessen, right across the street.
The Artist’s Palate and Canvas pretty much stayed Megan’s bailiwick – though both spouses “cycle” between their four places – while Morty’s and Brasserie 292 sort of became Charles’ turf.
“My wife likes to joke that our marriage was saved by two lanes,” said Charles, explaining that being on opposite sides of the street gave them just the right amount of private space they needed.
(Megan (Kulpa) Fells studied at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.)
In between all this, they tried out CHU Noodles & Dumplings, a pop-up Asian eatery at Canvas, but have had to give it up for now, not because it wasn’t a success, but because they couldn’t book enough hours to serve all the hungry hordes.
Part of the secret for not going nuts with all this, Megan said is "lists, lot of lists" and "taking one thing at a time."
"After all, it's just food; we're not making life and death decisions here," she added.
Having the help of a “wonderful” staff makes the juggling a lot easier and helps free up their Sundays for potluck dinners with family, friends and their adorable 6-year-old daughter, Charles said.
And when they’re not whipping up big Italian or Polish feasts at home, they like to schmooze with fellow restaurateurs and foodies at places such as Gaskins, a comfort food emporium in Columbia County’s Germantown, and Essie’s, a casual dining spot in Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy section.
Essie’s, like Morty’s, just opened last year in a downtown that is enjoying a resurgence.
The deli is adorned with cheerful blue and white striped awnings that are like a flame to the moth of folks craving overstuffed New York City-style pastrami or corned beef sandwiches – not to mention smoked brisket, whitefish salad and “Jewish Penicillin,” aka chicken soup with matzo balls.
Morty's is kosher style, not kosher, deli because it does not have separate kitchens, Charles says. The deli does not serve pork or shellfish, but some of its dishes contain dairy products. A rabbi with not be on staff to make sure Jewish dietary laws are followed.
Morty’s does source some of its meats from kosher facilities on Long Island and in New Jersey. As far as cheeses go, Morty’s follows the customer’s lead.
“If I told someone they couldn’t have a Reuben sandwich without cheese, they’d probably throw a fork at me,” Charles said, chuckling.
Plans for the future include a “Wiseguy Kitchen” event on Wednesday, April 26 at Canvas, 305 Main St., Charles said. Dinner is at 6 p.m.; the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65. To make a reservation, call (845) 483-8074, or go online at www.thewiseguykitchenshow.com .
The comedy/musical/cooking show is the brainchild of actor Vincent Fiore. The acting troupe combines nostalgia, improv and audience participation with a little Wiseguy flair, says its website – sort of like the Sopranos meets the food channel.
On March 9, Canvas will be the scene of a five-course beer dinner. The suds will be provided by Chatham Brewing, another operation that, like the Fells’, started out small – in a tiny cottage upstate – and grew and grew. The eating commences at 6 p.m. and the food part of the menu includes crispy duck, Caribbean pickled shrimp and braised wild boar.
Now Chatham Brewing’s product is sold throughout the Hudson Valley, from Saratoga to Manhattan.
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