Fine dining at The Highlands

KNOX — Most older people move south, from New York to Florida. Paul Schneider went in the other direction to give two of his daughters the opportunity of a lifetime: to run their own fine-dining restaurant.

The newly-open Highlands restaurant is headed up by a trio of native Hilltowners. Chef Sheena Tymschyn, Schneider’s daughter, runs the kitchen, while another daughter, Michelle Catalano, manages the dining room. Both are veterans of the Albany Country Club, where Tymschyn had risen to the rank of sous chef.

Schneider’s job, besides owning the place, his daughters say, is to be the face of the restaurant, greeting customers and chatting with them at the bar and in the dining room.

It’s not Schneider’s first time working this particular room. Thirty years ago, he said, he worked part time as a bartender at an earlier establishment at the same location.
"Since then, things have changed quite a bit up here," Schneider said. "There are a lot less farmers."

Though Schneider was humble about it, his daughters say the whole enterprise was his idea, on a visit home from Florida.
"We went out for dinner one day and we saw that this place was up for sale," Tymschyn said. "He said, ‘Why don’t we buy it"’"
The daughters were surprised by his unexpected offer, but Schneider saw it as a chance to help take them out of their high-stress jobs at the Albany Country Club, where, the daughters report, they worked long hours and there were "too many chiefs."

Not that they weren’t successful there. Both had worked their way up to managerial positions. Tymschyn, who worked at the country club for 19-and-a-half years, recently won a culinary award for one of her dessert creations, a cherry truffle tort. The tort now appears on the Highlands menu.

History in the making

The Highlands’ home, on Route 156 in Knox, not far from the Guilderland town line, is in a 1780’s farmhouse, formerly the Cheldan House. History happened here, the family believes, for example, a British army encampment.

Schneider said that one of his sons-in-law, using a metal detector, has uncovered some interesting things, including a Hessian belt buckle and some old Chinese coins.
"Chinese immigrants must have stopped here," Tymschyn said.

The building itself looks well used. The floor, wide wooden boards attached with square nails, rises visibly in some places and slopes down in others. Doorways and mantles are noticeably uneven as the building has settled over the years. The bar sits beneath huge beams. One of the taller bartenders has to constantly duck while he moves around, Catalano said.

The building is solid, though, the sisters said, and it’s all part of the charm.
"We love it," Catalano said. "It is weird though, with stairways going nowhere."

While her sister and father packed away a food delivery, Catalano took The Enterprise on a tour through the three dining rooms and the bar area. She pointed out several of the old pieces the family bought for decoration: lamps, a rifle, a strange glass container they couldn’t identify.
"We’ve just been going to auctions and buying all kinds of stuff," Catalano said.

She also took The Enterprise to the back deck to show the view of the rolling countryside and the area where diners used to tie their horses.

Memorable menu

The star of the restaurant, though, is the menu. Fine dining restaurants aren’t common in the Hilltowns. The only real competition, Schneider said, is the Tory Tavern, in distant Schoharie. The Foxenkill,which closed recently in West Berne, was a step below, menu-wise, he said. A number of its employees have come to work at The Highlands.
Of his daughter’s food, Schneider said, "So far, it’s pretty good." High praise from a man they consider a gourmand, his daughters said.
"I just can’t eat all that she puts on the plate every night, or I’d gain 500 pounds," said Schneider, who lives in an apartment above the restaurant.

The entrées, costing in the teens and twenties, include Catalano’s favorite, pork osso buco; Schneider’s favorite, Boston baked scrod; chicken Beradi; New York strip steak; and New Zealand rack of lamb. The appetizers include mussels, calamari, and fresh-made asiago and olive tidbits.

A separate bar menu serves more casual diners with sandwiches, soups, and burgers.

The affordable wine list, assembled by Catalano, includes reds and whites from the west coast, Australia, and Italy. The most expensive right now is a $29 bottle of 2005 pinot noir from Willamette in Oregon.

The Riesling, a 2005 from Washington State, $17 for a bottle and $5 for a glass, sold out in the first week, Catalano said.

In fact, the sisters said, the most surprising thing about the first week of operation is the amount of food and wine they ran out of. Business has been good, they said, smiling, with customers coming from the Hilltowns and off the hill—mostly drawn by word of mouth.

As they go into the next few weeks, they said, they plan to modify the menu and their food stocking practices to suit the demand from their customers. Eventually, Tymschyn said, she plans to offer daily specials.
"We’re waiting to see what people are ordering," she said.

Also, Tymschyn said, a chef from downstate will soon be joining her in the kitchen and contributing his ideas to the menu.
For the sisters, the most challenging part about starting the restaurant was "trying to get everything done at the last minute."
While they were trying to secure a permit from the Knox Zoning Board, they said, a number of community members came to their aid. Before opening, the family rewarded those people with a special dinner. They were the "test subjects," Tymschyn said.
"We just really want to thank everyone that helped us get open," she said.

And Schneider, despite having to return to the colder climate of New York, is enjoying his new post, eating and greeting and watching his family succeed.
"I’ve got the cushy job," he said.


The Highlands, on Route 156 in Knox, is open for dinner, 4 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays; 4 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

More Hilltowns News

  • The company was awarded a bid on Tuesday night that allows it to lay down nearly 40 miles of cable that will provide broadband access to 301 homes in the town of Westerlo; the project is funded with a $1.7 million federal grant. 

  • Under the belief that an auto dealer would be setting up in Rensselaerville, dozens of residents showed up at a planning board hearing to learn that that was not the case — but it didn’t stop them from airing their grievances anyway.

  • It took responders nearly 24-hours to find Wesley L. Knapp, an 82-year-old man from Pennsylvania who was declared missing the night of Sept. 10 after phoning his wife to let her know he was stuck in mud in the Stage Road area of Berne. 

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