A vacant ice cream parlor in the Greene County village of Tannersville has reopened as Mama’s Boy Burgers, a roadside grab-and-go eatery serving 26 flavors of custard and local grassfed hamburgers.
The restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating and an outdoor walk-up ice cream bar, celebrates its grand opening this Saturday, May 30.
But it’s already been open for several weeks to allow its staff of 10 and owner Michael Koegel, who also owns the Mama’s Boy Market coffeeshop in Phoenicia, to work out the kinks.
The building, which is topped with a giant ice cream cone sculpture, is a Tannersville icon. lt once housed Smiley’s Kosher Ice Cream, but was falling into disrepair when the Hunter Foundation bought it in 2011.
Above: A line outside the walk-up ice cream bar at Mama's Boy Burgers on May 17. Photo by Julia Reischel.
Now, the structure is brightly painted in blue and yellow to match the rest of the multi-hued storefronts that line Tannersville’s Main Street.
The outdoor walk-up ice cream bar is named in honor of Smiley’s, and a brand-new ice cream cone tops the roof, made by the same artisan who created the whale sculpture for New York’s American Museum of Natural History (according to Koegel). Driving by, the whole thing is impossible to miss.
“Mama’s Boy Burgers is to Tannersville as a lobster shack is to Cape Cod,” said Koegel. “It’s a roadside attraction. Stop in, get an ice cream and a burger, and go on your way.”
Koegel is running the business in partnership with the Hunter Foundation, which launched a search for a restauranteur to operate a year-round eatery in the location last year.
Koegel had both the chops — his Phoenicia coffeeshop has been thriving for five years — and the community-minded vision that the foundation was looking for. An article in the foundation’s newsletter from fall 2014 described Koegel as “a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-make-a-difference-in-your-community kind of guy.”
Koegel has signed a rent-to-own agreement, he said, in which the Hunter Foundation pays the building costs while Koegel covers the business costs and rent.
Above: The rehabbed interior of Mama's Boy Burgers. Photo by Andrea Cabane.
Custard in 26 flavors
Crafting the dessert menu for Mama’s Boy Burgers was a no-brainer. “This place came with an ice cream cone on top,” Koegel said.
The ice cream comes in hard and soft varieties. Jane’s Ice Cream, made in Kingston, comes in 12 flavors, while the soft serve — technically “custard” — comes in 26 flavors, thanks to a special machine that adds flavor extracts like amaretto, peach, creme de menthe and pina colada to a vanilla base.
Above: Chocolate custard with gummy bears. Photo by Julia Reischel.
The custard is satisfyingly rich and creamy: Koegel says that it contains over 10 percent buttercream. There are sundaes, banana splits, floats and milkshakes on offer, too.
Outside, red striped umbrellas shade picnic tables. Inside, the building has been refurbished 50s-style, with bright silver trays and buttery yellow booth-style seating. The silver pressed tin ceiling is original.
The rehabbed interior of Mama's Boy Burgers. By Julia Reischel.
Devil's Tombstone burger
Merrill Moore, a Brooklyn-based chef who cut his teeth at DuMont Burger, an artfully nostalgic hipster burger joint in Brooklyn, designed the dishes on the burger menu. (Moore also worked at Dressler, an upscale seasonal restaurant that earned a Michelin star before it closed.)
Moore’s menu for Mama's Boy Burgers combines a commitment to local, seasonal ingredients with a love of fast-food staples like fries and a housemade “special sauce,” the ingredients of which he won’t divulge. (It’s orangey-pink and tangy.)
Macho burgers like the Jersey Boy burger (mozzarella, Italian peppers and fresh basil) and the Big Daddy (blue cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, special sauce) rub shoulders with more hipster-friendly fare: There’s a sandwich with kale (the Happy Camper, with turkey and rosemary), a falafel burger and three kinds of wedge salad (classic, Greek and Caesar).
Above: The Devil's Tombstone burger at Mama's Boy Burgers. Photo by Andrea Cabane.
The best thing on the menu, according to Moore, is the “Devil’s Tombstone” burger, named in honor of a nearby campsite. Moore describes it as “an American classic:” two thin-cut beef patties and cheese plus lettuce, tomato and onions covered with the special sauce. It’s a delicious mess, and comes wrapped in a cheerful white sleeve to catch drips.
Local food, local staff
Moore is the menu’s mastermind, but the day-to-day cooking and serving is accomplished by a staff of about 10 people, mostly from the mountaintop community, Koegel said.
All the beef on the menu is local and grassfed Black Angus, raised by nearby JJF Farm, which also provides eggs. The cheese comes from Cooperstown Cheese Company and Dutch Girl Cheese, and Bebert’s Moroccan Condiments, based in Big Indian, contributes some condiments.
The prices are mid-range for the Catskills — the burgers average $10 — but many menu items can be bought with spare pocket change, including a white hot hot dog ($3.50) or tater tots, crispy pickle chips or a small custard cone (all $2.50).
Outdoor seating at Mama's Boy Burgers. By Julia Reischel.
One of Koegel’s missions is to encourage more traffic through the Stony Clove Notch that separates Phoenicia from Tannersville and Ulster County from Greene County. Traditionally, few folks think of driving over the mountain to eat, and instead head into the Hudson Valley to places like Saugerties and Woodstock, Koegel said.
But Tannersville and Woodstock are the same distance away from Phoenicia — each is only about 14 miles away. In some parts of Phoenicia, “it’s actually closer to Tannersville,” Koegel said.
Mama’s Boy Burgers. Grand opening Saturday, May 30 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. 6067 Main Street, Tannersville. 518-589-6667. facebook.com/MamasBoyBurgers. Mama’s Boy Burgers is a Watershed Post advertiser.