By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH– From the moment Ronnie Maisonett laid eyes on 85 Liberty Street, he knew his search for the perfect location for him and his wife’s new restaurant was over.
“Right away, I said to myself, this is it,” recalled Maisonett, whose wife, Tiffany, felt that same serendipitous, nostalgic pull. “It just felt so right.”
A former flower shop, the 1200 square foot corner locale on the rapidly revitalizing section of the City of Newburgh, inside contains a large, open back area space, perfect for a refrigerator; behind that, would go the kitchen, and the quaint, front entrance would be ideal for a few tables and a bar section; while the backyard property would make for a beautiful dining option once the spring arrives. Perhaps more than anything, the location has a special, elusive vibe that resonates with beats of being back in New York City at The Village in Soho. It also has the exact backdrop where they could vividly see recreating the Bronx City Island flair they wanted their dream authentic Spanish seafood restaurant to emulate.
This type of happy chance is familiar ground to the couple whose roots trace back to nine years of age. Initially meeting in their Spanish Harlem neighborhood roots, the two instantly connected.
“She was the first girl I ever kissed,” recalls a smiling Ronnie as he looks over at his wife of 15 years and with whom he has four children. “She was also the first girl I ever danced with.”
Although the two would spend some time apart, attending different secondary schools, eventually they found their way back, and have been inseparable since. Together for almost two decades and now relocated to Cornwall where they own a home, they share passions for cooking, family, their Puerto Rican heritage, as well as a deep understanding and respect for one another.
“Everything we have done has been together,” pointed out Tiffany, nestling up to her husband inside the 85 Liberty Street place they have been renting and working hard to renovate since September.
The idea for the restaurant was no different, something done in unison. When Ronnie expressed frustration with his shipping and receiving position last year to his wife and best friend, who was well aware of his incredible cooking passion and gift through her first-hand taste tests at home as well as the immeasurable popularity of his side catering jobs, she suggested he “be his own boss” and open a restaurant. Making it even more practical-as well as enticing-were the facts that Tiffany had a business background as a resident property manager, also loved to cook, and other family members were eager to contribute their culinary skills.
“It will be a completely family-run business,” explained Ronnie. “Our oldest child, my brother and my wife’s grandfather will all chip in, so that will make it extra nice.”
That familial connection runs still deeper. Ronnie’s grandfather served as his cooking mentor, introducing him at a young age to the finer, traditional points while unmasking the secret flavorings of authentic Spanish seafood (and other genres) cuisine. Customers at the restaurant’s namesake, “Crab and Bag,” aptly named for the meal takeaway concept in the wake of the Pandemic, will soon have the opportunity to select from an extensive menu of both seafood and traditional Latin food offerings in boil bags. Ronnie proudly pulls up on his phone an ensemble of colorful, visual dishes posted on social media of such mouth-watering options as; two-person serving snow crab, shrimp, mussels, red potato, corn on the cob, and sausage in a buttery sauce surrounded by Latin seasonings (garlic and hot spice, as well as plain choices), a catfish and shrimp dinner or fried whiting and shrimp with two sides, including macaroni and cheese, collard greens, candied yams and grits. A seafood salad, containing real crab meat, is also available. Meanwhile, some of the “regular” Latin food cuisine includes; pork chops and beans, pork shoulder (pernil), and Spanish empanadas.
Desserts, featuring homemade flan and cheesecake, are bound to satisfy those coming with a hankering for something sweet. Everything is homemade from scratch, accompanied by large doses of traditional loving care.
Not only distinguishing their business by the type of food selections they will be bringing-either next month or in March- to Liberty Street, the couple also wants to be as inclusive as possible. Offering 25% discounts to all First Responders, they intend to show their appreciation to those unsung heroes as well as continue to add other incentives, attracting a wide range of customers, once their doors open to the public.
In the meantime, much of this month will be devoted to a Pandemic-delayed construction phase, laden with securing permits, meeting other surrounding business owners, interacting with people in the area, and all the while taking in deep breaths of gratitude for where their journey has taken them. They will be eagerly awaiting all the potential ways they can introduce the area to their distinct product and facilitate in the flourishing growth that surrounds them.
“This block is in the middle of really rebuilding itself while bringing it back to how it used to be, and that is wonderful to be a part of,” said Tiffany. “Our bringing something new here that didn’t exist before is really exciting, and we can’t wait.”